Building a Brewery, Chapter 1: Oakhold Digs In

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a monthly series of journal entries in which Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery co-founder Levi Loesch writes on the victories and setbacks of building his mixed-fermentation brewery in northern Minnesota.

Introduction: A short history of a brewery-in-planning

When our friends at The Growler asked Caleb Levar and me if we would be willing to write an ongoing journal about our experiences planning and opening Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery, we were both excited and apprehensive.

I’ve always been happy to talk about our experience starting the brewery. We’ve had highs, like our shared successes in working with our friends at Fair State Brewing Cooperative, and lows, like having to rebrand from Oude Oak to Oakhold due to a potential trademark issue. But publishing our thoughts for the world to see is slightly nerve-wracking. I envision this journal to be as much about sharing our experiences as it is about capturing our frame of mind at a given point in time for us to reflect on later.

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

I have one disclaimer—we are truly a “brewery-in-planning.” It’s been amazing how much that plan has changed, even from day to day, based on what we’ve learned, and I’m sure those plans will continue to change. And in the interest of full disclosure, one can probably guess that there are some things that we just can’t share. But my hope is to give as honest and candid of a look into our journey as possible.

I should start with a brief history of who we are and what Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery is all about. My name is Levi Loesch and I met Caleb back in 2010. We were both, at best, pretty average homebrewers. Caleb and I, a microbiologist and an engineer, respectively, bonded over our shared fascination of the unique and complex microbiology of mixed-culture beers and we started exploring the different ways to create them.

While Caleb was working on his PhD in microbiology at the University of Minnesota, he spent his free time learning about the intricate nature of the various organisms that are responsible for the unique attributes of these beers. With this growing body of knowledge and the lessons learned from years of experimentation, we’ve been able to refine our microbial cultures, recipes, and processes.

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

We could not have done it without the help of my dad, Tim, who we affectionately call “the great enabler.” He was already a 20-year veteran homebrewer when I brewed my first batch and has been a big part of our success—especially when he let us put those first two 59-gallon wine barrels down in his basement. Being able to brew more beer than we could reasonably drink made it easier to bring multiple kegs to our favorite events like the Darkness Eve party at the Surly brewery and Where the Wild Beers Are. Each year we noticed growing support and enthusiasm for the beers we were making.

As we got better at mixed-culture fermentation, we decided that it was something we wanted to take to the next level and started planning a commercial brewery. Caleb and his wife had purchased a plot of land in rural Midway Township, a few miles south of Duluth. After some thought, we decided that building a barn on the land and building our brewery there was a prospect that meshed perfectly with the types of breweries we admire deeply.

Next page: Chapter 1 — On the Benefits and Challenges of a Rural Brewery

Pages: 1 2

Speak Your Mind